(CN) – Blockbuster won its appeal of a $2 million judgment for a man who spent more than four months in prison after an employee falsely told police that the man was a thief. The Missouri Court of Appeals granted the rental chain a new trial, saying a jury should decide if the informant was still an employee at the time.
William Gibbs sued Blockbuster for false imprisonment after he was arrested for allegedly staging a robbery at a Blockbuster in Kingshighway, Mo., with employee Jeron Brown.
Before the case went to the jury, the court awarded Gibbs a partial directed verdict by finding that Brown, who reported the robbery, was a Blockbuster employee.
Brown told officers that he and Gibbs had planned to fake the robbery and split the money.
Blockbuster argued that even though Brown was technically still an employee while awaiting his final paycheck, he had been all but fired for lying about the robbery and admitting to having stolen from the store. Brown had to turn in his keys and remove his belongings.
Gibbs was charged with first-degree robbery and armed criminal action, but was released after 134 days. Brown was never charged in the incident.
The trial court determined that Brown was, in fact, a Blockbuster employee, and the jury awarded Gibbs $2 million for false imprisonment.
On appeal, Judge Kurt Odenwald ruled that it should have been up to the jury to decide if Brown was still a Blockbuster employee when he falsely accused Gibbs of robbing the store.
“The particular facts of the case before us compel us to conclude that reasonable minds could differ as to whether Brown was an employee of Blockbuster acting in the scope and course of employment during the … police interview,” Odenwald wrote. “Thus, Brown’s employment is a factual issue to be decided by the jury.”
The court reversed and remanded for a new trial.